Big Data

Special Report on Big Data by Volta – A newsletter on Science, Technology and Society in Europe:  “Locating crime spots, or the next outbreak of a contagious disease, Big Data promises benefits for society as well as business. But more means messier. Do policy-makers know how to use this scale of data-driven decision-making in an effective way for their citizens and ensure their privacy?90% of the world’s data have been created in the last two years. Every minute, more than 100 million new emails are created, 72 hours of new video are uploaded to YouTube and Google processes more than 2 million searches. Nowadays, almost everyone walks around with a small computer in their pocket, uses the internet on a daily basis and shares photos and information with their friends, family and networks. The digital exhaust we leave behind every day contributes to an enormous amount of data produced, and at the same time leaves electronic traces that contain a great deal of personal information….

Until recently, traditional technology and analysis techniques have not been able to handle this quantity and type of data. But recent technological developments have enabled us to collect, store and process data in new ways. There seems to be no limitations, either to the volume of data or technology for storing and analyzing them. Big Data can map a driver’s sitting position to identify a car thief, it can use Google searches to predict outbreaks of the H1N1 flu virus, it can data-mine Twitter to predict the price of rice or use mobile phone top-ups to describe unemployment in Asia.

The word ‘data’ means ‘given’ in Latin. It commonly refers to a description of something that can be recorded and analyzed. While there is no clear definition of the concept of ‘Big Data’, it usually refers to the processing of huge amounts and new types of data that have not been possible with traditional tools.

‘The new development is not necessarily that there are so much more data. It’s rather that data is available to us in a new way.’

The notion of Big Data is kind of misleading, argues Robindra Prabhu, a project manager at the Norwegian Board of Technology. “The new development is not necessarily that there are so much more data. It’s rather that data is available to us in a new way. The digitalization of society gives us access to both ‘traditional’, structured data – like the content of a database or register – and unstructured data, for example the content in a text, pictures and videos. Information designed to be read by humans is now also readable by machines. And this development makes a whole new world of  data gathering and analysis available. Big Data is exciting not just because of the amount and variety of data out there, but that we can process data about so much more than before.”

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